Jake: You traded the Bluesmobile for this??
Elwood: No, for a microphone.
Jake: A microphone…? Ok, I can see that. Then what the hell is this?
I guess I must have been about 14 when I first saw this film. I don´t remember much about it other than it hit me square between the eyes and left me a bit dizzy. Dizzy enough that by the time I was 16 or 17 I´d already watched it another 20 or 30 times at least and knew and loved every last moment of it.
When people are asked what their favourite movie of all-time is there is a tendency sometimes to try and name the film they consider to be the greatest cinematic achievement, the one that impressed them the most in terms of its originality and its art. For me though I always go for the movie I´ve spent the most hours of my life watching, the one that entertained me the most, so much in fact that I still now have to go back at least once or twice a year and lose myself in it. That movie is the Blues Brothers, this and any other day of the week.
Elwood: What was I going to do? Take away your only hope? Take away the one thing that kept you going in there? I took the liberty of bullshitting you, ok?
Jake: You lied to me
Elwood: It wasn´t lies, it was just bullshit
What I wanted to do for this article was maybe pick two or three of my favourite songs, and two or three of my favourite jokes and write about them. However, the more I thought about it the more I realized how impossible a task that was. Every song is fantastic, as you might expect from a film which has the greatest line-up of musical talent ever assembled on one film set (yep, that´s my claim and I´m sticking by it. Honestly, name me a worthy contender…). Then in-between the simply staggering performances you also have one of the most laugh-out-loud downright quotably funny movies of all time. No, I can´t choose outright which are my favourites, and I´m certainly not about to write a synopsis of the whole damn film. So for the sake of brevity the choices below are today´s choices, and if I sat down to write this on another day I would probably choose completely differently. Anyhow, with that established let´s push on and take a look at just a few of this films many musical and comedic highlights…
James Brown – The Old Landmark
Reverend James: Have you seen the light?
Jake: Yes! Yes! Jesus H goddamn bastard Christ I have seen the light!!
Many things to love in this scene, not least the sight of The Godfather of Soul at the tail-end of his prime years clearly enjoying a role as a preacher which wasn´t a million miles away from how he and many others saw him in the 70´s. Add to that the euphoric gospel music, the increasingly ludicrous dancing and Jake and Elwood´s epiphany moment and you can´t really go wrong here.
Jake: You were the backbone, the nerve centre of a great Rhythm & Blues band. You can make that live, breath and jump again. Murph and the Magic Tones?? Look at you in those candy-ass monkey suits. And I thought I had it bad in Joliet.
Willie: At least we got a change in clothes motherfucker. You´re wearing the same shit you had on three years ago.
Donald: Jake ain´t lying though, we had a band powerful enough to turn goat´s piss in to gasoline.
Aretha Franklin – Think
As I mentioned before, the array of musical talent in this film is quite remarkable. And I´m not just talking about the big guest stars either but also the band themselves. Steve ´The Colonel´ Cropper and Donald ´Duck´ Dunn of Stax and Booker T & the MG´s fame feature prominently (with Cropper acting as a musical director for the film too), and the rest of the band is comprised of musicians whose CV´s include just about every prominent soul/jazz/R&B musician of the era. This scene features Matt ´Guitar´ Murphy who played with Memphis Slim, Ike Turner, Etta James, Otis Rush and Sonny Boy Williamson to name but a few. As for the scene itself, what we get is the Queen of Soul herself singing maybe the strongest song in the film played out in the form of a very public domestic argument. I´ve always loved Aretha´s backing singers in this scene who kind of act as gossipy eavesdroppers giving her tacit support as she implores her man to ´Think about what you tryin´ a-do to me´, plus of course more fabulous dancing.
The Blues Brothers – Stand By Your Man
Elwood: What kind of music do you usually have here?
Claire (Bob´s wife): Oh we got both kinds. We got Country AND Western.
It would be incredibly remiss of me to write this article and not mention, at least briefly, the scenes set in Bob´s Country Bunker, the supposed triumphant return gig the Jake and Elwood ´steal´ from The Good Ol´Boys (who become part of the mass entourage angrily chasing the Blues Brothers). Not only for the above quote, which makes me laugh every time, but also for their crowd-pleasing and wholly unforgettable take on Tammy Wynette´s C&W classic ´Stand By Your Man´. Following an aborted attempt at playing their regular set they first reel out the theme to ´Rawhide´, and then this, to much appreciative whooping, hollering and bottle-throwing applause.
Maurie Sline: Tomorrow night? What are you talking about? A gig like that you gotta prepare the proper exploitation.
Elwood: I know about that stuff. I´ve been exploited all my life.
The Blues Brothers – Everybody Needs Somebody To Love
Having sneaked in past the massed ranks of police and other angry pursuers whilst Cab Calloway kept the crowd entertained with a magical rendition of Minnie The Moocher, the Brothers kick off the gig proper with this wonderful slice of singalong R&B (originally recorded by Solomon Burke, with Wilson Pickett also doing a great version). This version is, for me, up there with them though, not least because it showcases John Belushi´s voice, which whilst it isn´t in the same class as Burke´s or Pickett´s has an appreciably rough-edged, soulful quality that allowed him to carry a song like this through the sheer strength of his charisma as much as anything else. Plus, there is an exuberance about this performance, a verve which is magical and thoroughly enticing.
Elwood: It´s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it´s dark, and we´re wearing sunglasses.
Jake: Hit it!
And with that, the most memorable quote from the film, begins the most insane, over-the-top car chase in Hollywood history. The reported costs of this scene was in the region of $3.5 million. 60 police cars were purchased for this scene with almost all of them being destroyed during filming. It was all shot in real time too with cars gaining speeds of over 100 mph. The magnitude of this scene is still quite breathtaking even now, and what I love about it is that it´s so totally ridiculous, so utterly fantastic that it works almost as an end in itself, like a mini film within the film. The Richard J Daley center at the end isn´t a studio facsimile, it´s the real thing and special permission was given for the Bluesmobile to be driven through the lobby, a scene which caused thousands of dollars of damage. It was worth every last cent.
That I can write about all the above and not even mention things like the performances by Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker, or actors like Carrie Fisher (Jake´s vengeful ex) or John Candy, or cameo appearances from the likes of Twiggy, Frank Oz (of Muppet Show fame) and Steven Spielberg is a testament to just how rich in talent and quality this film is. And that´s maybe the best thing I can say about it – there´s no flab, no filler, and even the remastered version which extends the film to include scenes originally left out doesn´t ruin the flow of the film (although I do prefer the original cut if I´m totally honest, maybe because that´s the one etched in to my brain). It never lets up, never sags and never fails to entertain. If you already know and love this film then I´m sure you will agree, and if you don´t already know and love this film I have but one question: WHAT ON EARTH HAVE YOU BEEN DOING WITH YOUR LIFE????? The greatest film ever made? No, of course not. The most entertaining musical film ever made? Damn right. It´s on a mission from God. You can´t mess with that.